Ygal Levy (BSc Business Studies, 2012) expanded his world view through exchange programmes whilst at Cass, and he’s now expanding the minds of…anyone who wants to book a meeting room, thanks to Bird Office “the Airbnb of meeting rooms”!
Tell me about your time at Cass!
To tell you about my time at Cass first you should know where I came from. I am from Antwerp in Belgium – famous for its diamonds and port. I grew up going to a Jewish school from the age of 3 to 18, where I was surrounded by the same fifty or so people throughout. I call it a “cocoon” community.
At the age of 16 I came to London to visit my sister who was studying Business Studies at Cass and I was instantly sold on the University and its curriculum. There were so many international students at Cass and it really opened my eyes to a whole new world. This sneak peek was all I needed, so as soon as applications opened I had Cass at the top of my list.
My experience at Cass was amazing, especially because of the large network of student exchange programs that were offered. During my second year, I studied abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) for one year; actually, after doing so I convinced my younger brother to also study at Cass and HKUST. 70% of the students were international and the University offers a broad range of exchange destinations to explore new cultures. I learned Chinese, travelled from Hong Kong to mainland China and practiced my Mandarin with the locals.
Most of the people I met in London and while on exchange are still close friends of mine. Recently, I travelled to San Francisco as well as Mexico and funnily enough I did not have to spend any time in a hotel, I knew people everywhere! Actually, I also got in touch with Bird Office through a friend from Cass.
What did you do next?
Following my undergraduate degree at Cass, I did a Master of European Business at the École Supérieure du Commerce de Paris (ESCP). I got the opportunity to write my Masters thesis about the EU container market for the largest container handling company in the world, PSA Antwerp, which led to a job directly thereafter.
They were looking to fill a specific position but after my studies I had a very open view of what I should do. I was only 21 and I did not know whether I would prefer sales, finance or operations, so I did not want to settle into any specific role; I wanted to move around and see what a large company had to offer. Since this was unprecedented, I became the guinea pig for the new management trainee program. I rotated through various departments; thus, I had gained a very holistic view of the company.
This rotation went on for three years and I really built up a good picture of what it was like inside the company. After about two and a half years I realised that I wanted to pursue a more entrepreneurial path and develop a new concept and market from scratch.
How did you end up at Bird Office?
Last year I was introduced to the two founders of the company through a mutual friend of a fellow Cass alumni. These two guys came up with the concept when they were in university. Over two and a half years they have grown from a start-up of two founders to a team of 25. They have received several awards and have featured in magazines like Le Figaro and on TV. It’s a great concept – it has changed the way people book meeting and training rooms. After several meetings the company awarded me the opportunity to launch Bird Office on the Belgian market.
So, what is Bird Office?
It’s an online booking platform for meeting and event spaces, whether you want to hire a small room or an auditorium for a conference, training rooms, or IT rooms for an hour or a day. We are now active in the UK, France, Belgium and Switzerland, and the website will be translated to Dutch in order to further expand to the Netherlands.
It’s a hassle-free online booking platform suitable for all types of companies looking for an event location and it’s able to offer better prices, thanks to our long-term deals with partners. Our partners are split in profile between those who have historically offered meeting spaces, and newcomers to the market.
We offer the classic options of hotels and co-working centres who have dedicated employees whose job it is to organise the hire of meeting spaces, but we also have added offerings like architects’ offices, lawyers’ offices, training facilities and university classrooms. These companies and institutions have a lot of rooms that are not in use all the time, so we can turn these in to B2B meeting rooms. Basically, any company can rent its available room(s) through Bird Office to gain additional revenue.
My role was to launch Bird Office in Belgium and the Netherlands and to create the partnerships (the offering of event spaces and meeting rooms on the Bird Office website). Everyone knows you can hire rooms at hotels and conference centres but very few know about those other meeting rooms in training centres, lawyer and architect offices etc. We have changed that!
Most of the people looking to book the rooms are companies or professionals organising meetings, but we also get entrepreneurs and recruiters using, for example, our smaller rooms for interviews as well as bookings for 300+ people auditoriums.
What have been the main difficulties?
The challenge is that when you launch a product that’s new to the market you are changing the traditional way things are done, so you need great communication to convey the benefits and time-saving of booking via Bird Office. People are used to booking events spaces or conference rooms in the classic hotels by calling or e-mailing the venue, which can be a very time consuming process.
Bird Office offers transparency on the prices, and a booking can be requested in just a few clicks without the need to wait for a reply. You know the exact cost when booking through Bird Office but there is also the benefit of a networking aspect.
We heard of one company that booked a meeting room at a university, in the auditorium, and subsequent to the event, the client suggested advertising its available job positions to the university students. The networking aspect can create unexpected connections!
The other main reason big clients choose us is the ease of administration and accounting. Whether you book a meeting room through Bird Office in Paris, London or Brussels you can access all your invoices on your online account.
Could you give any advice to people looking to follow in your footsteps?
I would definitely recommend to go on exchanges and fully immerse yourself in a culture different to yours. I left my comfort zone and went to London, Paris and Hong Kong and learned Mandarin, these adventures gave me the push to pursue a start-up adventure.
It’s hard work but when you see the fruits of your labour and obtain clients or partners it really puts a smile on your face. You’re not a number in a company rather you’re an asset. The concept has real added value and you’re an important part of the ride!
But what was also important for me before joining a start up was to get that experience at a large company. It’s a great learning school, like how through my job rotation I saw how departments work together and coordinate. Start up life is really exciting and fun and there is lots of networking to be done but you need to understand the building blocks first.
The secret is to find your skills, what you like, your passion, and then aim for the sky!
Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
Favourite place in London: I discovered this one recently, Bounce in Shoreditch.
Favourite holiday destination: Not strictly a holiday but going to Hong Kong and travelling from there, it was the best year of my life.
Must-check every day website: Bird Office, of course, and also Tech Crunch, which is about new tech concepts and start-ups.
Dream travel destination: South America, I’d love to discover it all on a backpacking trip.
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate of course – Belgian chocolate is the best!